Learning empathy, resolving identity, rejecting violence against women

In my Ring The Bell promise, I said I would continue to write on the subject of sexual violence and oppression against women. So here are some thoughts.

Born a white cisgendered male, I have two fundamental flaws. My life has been about first acknowledging these flaws, then working to overcome them.

First- the sheer blindness I have towards discrimination and unfair treatment. Only through reading Audre Lorde, Malcolm X, and right now Jimmy Santiago Baca’s memoir A Place to Stand have I began to appreciate how fixed the game is. Much like how a member of Congress can support and defend a war that they themselves do not have to fight, one is tempted to shut their ears and eyes and pretend that injustice is cleansed from our society. And many white, male Americans have retreated into this cocoon, and ignore what other people are suffering through.

The problem is distance, and the solution is an ever-vigilant campaign to understand and to empathize. In the civil rights battles of our time, white men like myself either stand with the enemies, or sit the fight out. An awakening to injustice in its countless forms: racial discrimination in arrests and sentencing, stop-and-frisk policies that almost exclusively target minority youth, and the epidemic of sexual assault and harassment across continents. Two weeks ago I wrote about how every country in the world has slaves– even countries that consider themselves enlightened and in a morally superior position on the global stage. The Walk Free Foundation says that just under thirty million people are treated as slaves. A strong majority of them are women, including many under the age of 18.

It seems impossible that in my own California county sex slaves are routinely found in police operations. Even if I personally do not mistreat women, it is because of men- as sexual consumers, as organized criminals, as buyers of goods that are far too cheap to come from voluntary labor- that this system continues. The bottom line is that violence, discrimination, and oppression- are not someone else’s problem. They are everyone’s problem.

The second flaw is an issue of identity. White men are often under siege as a major group perpetuating discrimination and abuse. This is statistically true, and many civil rights campaigns ended up against a power clique dominated by white men . One can become defensive from all of this- feel that they are personally being blamed. But just because other white people, other men, other cisgendered individuals are part of the problem doesn’t mean I am the same. This underlying primal mentality- to defend groups that look like you- is dangerous and has to be overcome.

So the first flaw requires an ability to understand the world, and learn from other people in different circumstances. The second is liberation to act for justice, not solely as a white man who sees the world in a very specific way. I am not just white, I am not just male, I am not just an American citizen. I am Andrew Mackay- and my concerns are universal.

This is all a complicated way of saying simple things. While I will never fully understand the plight of women, or another ethnic group, I can understand the conflicts going on among men- especially white men. Coming over to a side that speaks out against sexual violence requires a stark reading of your own philosophy and ideas of what is and what is not important. Some men are almost through the process, and will join me to continue on the path. Others have not even started yet. But there are millions of them, and without them only so much justice can be done.

 

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